In a few years, for the first time in since the Space Shuttle’s retirement, the US will have a way for astronauts — and maybe even civilians — to go into space.
In a live press conference, NASA announced the winners of $US6.8 billion in contracts to create a spaceship to shuttle humans to outer space — essentially space taxis. In the contract, Boeing will receive a contract for $US4.2 billion for development of its CST-100 capsule, and SpaceX will receive a contract for $US2.6 billion for its Dragon 2 capsule.
This is the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired that NASA will have their own ride up to the ISS. Here’s what the SpaceX Dragon 2 will look like in action:
And here’s the unveiling of the Boeing CST-100:
“Thanks to the leadership of President Obama and the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote in a blog post following the announcement. ” Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry also will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission — sending humans to Mars.”
These contracts are not only lucrative but historic, as Boeing and SpaceX will play a pivotal role in the future of manned space travel, by establishing what will essentially be a taxi service to and from low-Earth orbit and eliminating America’s reliance on Russian Soyuz rockets.
This last factor is especially important in light of escalating tensions between the US and Russia over the power struggle in the Ukraine.
Boeing and SpaceX will not only provide transportation for astronauts to and from the International Space Station, but will, in principle, be free to sell a ride to low-Earth orbit to anyone willing to pay for it.
These awards are the culmination of a race that began in 2010, when NASA began awarding funding to private companies to develop a capsule capable of carrying astronauts into orbit and back. Unlike previous NASA programs, in which NASA handled all of the work and the funding, the Commercial Crew program entails a partnership between government and industry, in which NASA set the final safety and functionality requirements for the transportation system, but left it to the companies themselves to figure out the best way to meet those requirements.
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